Eye on the target

by Bryan Salvage
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In the never-ending war against Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw poultry products, government and the US poultry industry continue pushing forward as these pathogens hold a dubious distinction in the US food industry. Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relays both are among the top pathogens contributing to domestically acquired foodborne illnesses and deaths (2000-2008; announced in 2011).

These top pathogens identified by CDC are:

  • Illnesses – Norovirus; Salmonella, nontyphoidal; Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp.; and Staphylococcus.
  • Deaths – Salmonella, nontyphoidal; Taxoplasma gondii; Listeria monocytogenes; and Campylobacter spp.

Each year, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the US. But the number of infections may be 29 or more times greater since many milder cases aren’t diagnosed or reported, CDC relays. Estimates claim approximately 400 people die per year from acute salmonellosis. Although there are many kinds of Salmonella bacteria, Salmonella serotype Typhimurium and Salmonella serotype Enteritidis are the most common in the US.

Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus Campylobacter. FoodNet indicates approximately 13 cases are diagnosed each year for each 100,000 persons in the population. However, insiders claim many more cases go undiagnosed or unreported and campylobacteriosis is estimated to affect more than 2.4 million persons per year, or 0.8 percent of the population. Although Campylobacter does not commonly cause death, it has been estimated approximately 124 persons with Campylobacter infections die per year.

Safeguarding products

Last month, the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced companies producing “comminuted” poultry, which includes ground chicken and mechanically separated chicken, must reassess their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans.

“HACCP reassessments improve a company’s ability to identify hazards and better prevent foodborne illness,” said USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen.

FSIS also plans to expand the Salmonella verification sampling program to include other raw comminuted poultry products, in addition to ground product; increase the sample size for laboratory analysis to 325 grams from 25 grams to provide consistency as FSIS moves toward analyzing samples for Salmonella and Campylobacter; plus conduct sampling to determine the prevalence of Salmonella in not-ready-to-eat comminuted poultry products and use the results to develop new performance standards for those products, the National Chicken Council says.

Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, says pre-requisite programs are continually developed, monitored and updated by chicken-plant teams and reviewed with USDA/FSIS personnel.

“These programs are adjuncts to HACCP and Sanitation SOPs that help reduce contamination and product defects through production and distribution,” she adds. “Such programs outline key processes and steps within the process that are monitored. This ensures controls are in place, operating within recommended parameters and help to improve food safety and product quality.”

Over the last decade, intervention technologies and applications have been widely adapted and introduced into the slaughter and processing processes, including approved antimicrobial chemical rinses, dips and washes to cut contamination within a process.

“These approved antimicrobials offer an alternative to chlorine and have demonstrated to be more effective than chlorination when used at key intervention steps in the process; for example pre- and post-chill sprays/dips; chiller, scalders, inside-outside bird washes and rinses/dips in further processing, to name a few,” Peterson says. Off-line antimicrobial interventions include peroxyacetic acid and acid blends as a chlorine alternative.

One Cargill executive stresses the importance of using hurdle strategies to fight Salmonella and Campylobacter in its turkey products. “We strongly believe in and employ a multiple-hurdle, supply-chain-wide approach to address these naturally and randomly occurring bacteria,” says Scott Eilert, Ph.D., vice president of food safety, quality and regulatory with Cargill Value Added Meats’ retail segment. “The foundation of our approach is based on using interventions in our chiller, although we don’t limit our efforts to the chiller.”

In its harvest facilities, Cargill focuses on properly cleaning birds to remove as much debris as possible before they move to the scalder.

“We employ interventions before and after the evisceration process,” Eilert says. “We also use interventions during the debone process and immediately prior to grinding. Upstream, we work very closely with our agriculture team to take all steps necessary to minimize the bacterial load arriving at our harvest facilities. Our efforts have resulted in significant reductions in our Salmonella incidence rates.”

Cargill uses process mapping to look at each process step to ensure a continuous reduction in pathogen load is achieved. “We know our processes are capable of a 7- to 8-log reduction in bacterial load, which ultimately results in a very low level of Salmonella potentially coming out of the chiller,” he adds.

Cargill continuously evaluates new processing aids that could improve effectiveness in controlling the microbial load plus invests a lot of resources to better understand the best delivery method for these processing aids. It also continuously tests new ingredients and technologies in its harvest facilities and production systems.

“We have explored High Pressure Processing for ground turkey and have successfully refined its use in our ground-beef business,” he adds. “We believe this technology has potential for our ground-turkey products.”

Cargill also works to improve the timeliness of the detection methodologies for these pathogens. If it can reduce the time required to get preliminary answers from its pathogen testing, it can use this testing as a real-time measurement of its process-control program effectiveness.

At appropriate times during production, Tyson Foods uses food-grade sprays or washes, frequently mixed with high volumes of water, which include antimicrobial solutions, says Scott Stillwell, Tyson’s vice president of food safety and quality assurance. The company also performs consistent sanitation routines at all of its facilities and uses statistical process control of the dressing procedures to minimize the potential for cross-contamination during processing.

Tyson Foods has incrementally reduced both the number of positives and the total microbial load of Salmonella and Campylobacter spp. samples in its plants over the course of the last several years.

“The multi-hurdle intervention programs consistently provide a 4- to 5- log10 microbial reduction when live receiving data are compared to post-chill data,” Stillwell says. “Our company average performance is well below the industry average and well below the current performance standard.”

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